Won’t appear before ministry panel unless it’s re-set: Bajrang Punia

Published on Jan 24, 2023 11:14 PM IST

Top wrestlers Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik criticise sports ministry for not consulting them before naming the five-member panel headed by boxer MC Mary Kom

Wrestler Bajrang Punia addresses a joint press conference with Union Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Anurag Thakur regarding the wrestlers' protest against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (ANI)
Wrestler Bajrang Punia addresses a joint press conference with Union Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Anurag Thakur regarding the wrestlers' protest against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (ANI)
ByAvishek Roy, New Delhi

In a fresh twist to the wrestling controversy, the protesting wrestlers on Tuesday rejected the five-member oversight committee announced by the union sports ministry to probe their allegations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, claiming that the government didn’t keep its word.

“We were assured that we would be consulted before the oversight committee was formed. It is very sad that we were not even consulted before the formation this committee,” read identical tweets put out by Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and two-time world championships medallist Vinesh Phogat, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, union home minister Amit Shah and union sports minister Anurag Thakur.

The committee announced by Thakur on Monday is headed by Olympic medallist and six-time world boxing champion MC Mary Kom. The other members are Olympic medallist wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, former badminton player and Mission Olympic Cell member Trupti Murgunde, ex-Target Olympic Podium Scheme CEO Rajesh Rajagopalan and retired SAI Executive Director (Teams) Radhica Sreeman.

The panel will go into allegations of “sexual misconduct, harassment and/or intimidation, financial irregularities and administrative lapses, levelled by the prominent sportspersons,” the ministry order says. The panel has been asked to complete the inquiry by four weeks and also take over the day-to-day administration of WFI till the probe is completed.

It was learnt that the committee had its first meeting on Tuesday and also cleared the Indian team for the International Ranking Tournament starting in Croatia on February 1.

Thakur had two long meetings with the wrestlers before announcing the inquiry. Following that, the wrestlers called off their three-day protest on Saturday night.

“We made it very clear during our meeting that our views should be taken before the committee is formed. It is a very, very serious matter and we want a fair and impartial probe,” Punia said on Tuesday.

“We were told by the ministry to have a discussion on the names we would like to suggest and that we would be consulted. But that never happened,” he said.

Asked whether they have objections to any of the committee members, Punia said, “No, we do not have objection to any particular member. But we feel our suggestions should have been taken. Or else, how can we be sure that the probe will be fair?

“You can understand the person we are up against. He is very powerful and everyone knew the kind of things he was involved in; still he is the WFI president. It has taken lot of courage on the part of wrestlers to come forward and protest against his rule.”

Punia said they want the ministry to reconstitute the committee. “We are not going to appear before this panel. It needs to be reconstituted. If need be, we will be back for sit-in protest after 15 days.”

He, however, said the protesting wrestlers have no objection to the seven-member panel named by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). It is also headed by Mary Kom, the Athletes Commission chairman. Dutt is also a member of both the panels.

“We don’t have my objection to the IOA committee because it is an internal committee of the IOA and it will have its members. The sports ministry panel will look into every aspect of the allegations,” said the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist.

In their letter to IOA president PT Usha, the wrestlers had asked for the formation of a new committee to run WFI in consultation with them.

While there was no official statement from the sports ministry on the issue, officials in the know said two of the members, including Mary Kom, were the choice of the wrestlers.

The top wrestlers staged an unprecedented three-day protest at Jantar Mantar, calling for the immediate removal of Singh.

The oversight committee held its first meeting on Tuesday and took over the WFI’s functioning. The federation’s executive body was directed by the ministry on Monday to abstain with immediate effect from administering and managing the day-to-day activities.

Mary Kom’s committee cleared the Indian squad for participation in Croatia so that their visas can be arranged. Punia, Vinesh, Sakshi, Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Ravi Dahiya and world championships medallist Deepak Punia are part of the team but have said they won’t compete in any tournament until the issue is resolved to their satisfaction.

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